THE EVOLUTION OF SOCIAL LIFE IN INSECTS
Keywords: Family interactions, Eusocial colonies, Social conflicts, Social immunity, Cooperation, Life-history traits, Parent-offspring coadaptation, Inbreeding, Chemical communication, Earwigs, Ants.
My research group endeavors to better understand the evolutionary mechanisms that shaped the evolution of social life in insects.
Social life is a widesprand phenomenon in nature that is considered as one of the major evolutionary transitions of life on Earth. Across taxa and species, sociality exhibits different degrees of complexity, ranging from mutual attraction between individuals to cohesive societies with reproductive division of labour. Whereas the ecological success of group living species is commonly attributed to the benefits social life provides to individuals, living in groups also comes with important fitness costs. In particular, two of these costs typically results (1) from the social conflicts between group members over food resources and reproduction and (2) from the higher chance of being infected by microbes. Hence, the emergence and maintenance of social life requires evolutionary mechanisms that limit the cost of group living, ensure individual fitness and thus favor group cohesion.
Our main biological model is the European earwig, Forficula auricularia, a sub-social insect wherein females provide non-obligatory forms of care to their offspring. Parts of our projects also involve ant species, which exhibit eusocial colonies with different social structures.
The methods we use typically involve behavioral observations, chemical and microsatellites analyses, statistical processes (meta-analyses), immunological bioassays, as well as field and laboratory experiments.
Current research questions:
Which behavioral, (epi)genetic and chemical mechanisms regulate within-group conflicts?
What is the influence of social interactions on the immune system exhibited by group members?
What is the basis of recognition systems and chemical communication within and between groups?
To what extent social and ecological environments (reciprocally) influence the life-history traits expressed by group members?
- Dr Fanny Vogelweith
Diploma / Master students
- Armin Joos
- Janina Diehl